Last weekend we made a little visit to the oldest Botanical garden of The Netherlands, the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden. Leiden is not only a beautiful old city, but is also the place where the first university of the Netherlands was founded in 1575. Soon the medical department from the university asked permission to create a garden behind the University building and in 1590 the permission was granted. The botanist Carolus Clusius was in charge of the garden and started the first planting.
This garden is now recreated at exactly the same spot and with the same planting scheme as in 1594. Overtime the garden expanded its collection enormously and added species from the overseas colonies. In the 19th century also a lot of Japanese plants were brought into the garden by von Siebold, a German physician who spent quite some time in Japan, a country that was quite secluded at that time.
But let’s have a look inside the garden now. You start your journey in the winter garden, a big new glasshouse where you also find a shop and café. Most of this big glasshouse is used to overwinter plants, but also has an interesting and large collection of carnivorous plants. Back outside you bump into the old Clausius garden. It’s also here where you find the oldest plant of the garden, a golden chain planted in 1601. The modern day Clausius garden is a bit smaller that the original one, but gives you a nice idea of how it looked in its early days. From here you walk past the big orangery and reach the greenhouses.
The greenhouses house a big collection of tropical plants and you can even walk all the way up to have a look from above. In between palmtrees, banana trees and tropical flowers you can also discover the cinnamon tree, ginger or cacao. On your way to the Victoria glass house you’ll pass the large orchid collection. The Victoria greenhouse houses the famous Victoria amazonica, the largest waterlily in the world. Some steps down and you are back outside.
In 1990 a Japanese garden was created in remembrance of von Siebold, who’s statue can be found behind the little pavilion. The wall around the secluded garden is red and refers to the teahouses in Nagasaki where the Dutch could meet in the 19th century. The plantings in this garden are quite sober and it’s more the symbolism that is important.
The gravel symbolizes water, the bigger rocks eternity. At the back three rocks symbolize Buddha and two helpers. At the side you’ll see the enormous Japanese Elm tree, planted in 1830 by von Siebold himself.In the garden itself you find some bamboo, ferns and lilies. The Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla Otaksa) behind the statue of von Siebold are in honor of his Japanese wife, who was also called “O-Taki”.
Further down on our pad we stumble upon the Chinese herb garden, created in 2015. As the garden is still rather new, the planting scheme is still a work in process, so it will be interesting to see how it grows overtime. It will have a strong focus on plants used in traditional Chinese healing methods.
At the back of the garden you can admire the old observatory and its visitor centre. A new garden is created between the canal and the oberservatory. Walking back we come to one of my favorite parts of the garden : The fern garden.
The fern garden is a seemingly wild shadow garden, but nothing is what it seems. This garden contains many kinds of ferns and forest plants. A natural looking pond and a little stream make the peaceful atmosphere complete. This part is best visited in late spring, when the fresh green colors make this a mystical spot in the garden.
Worth mentioning is also the new system garden that gives you information about the relationship between plants. In this scheme the plants that have the closest relationship are positioned near each other. In the recent years genetics have brought quite some new insight in this field and some old theories had to be completely abandoned. It’s very educational and you get some extra information on the signs. A bit further you can also surround yourself with the lovely smell of the roses in the rose garden. And that brings us back to where we started. When you are back on the street (Rapenburg) you can go left and visit the Siebold house a bit further up the street and admire his Japanese collection and learn more about Japanese culture.
Hortus Botanicus : Rapenburg 73, 2311 GJ Leiden, The Netherlands
Opening Hours : Summer (1 April to 31 October) : Every day from 10h00 to 18h00 / Winter (1 November – 31 March) : Tue – Sun from 10h00 to 16h00
Entrance Fee : 7.5 euro